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JIMMY LITTLE - How Does It Gan?

JIMMY LITTLE - How Does It Gan?
Hooky Mat Records HMR011

Jimmy Little of Warenford has been a stalwart of the Northumbrian music scene for many years, and the fact that he doesn't read music is the explanation of the title (it's a Northumbrian request for guidance as to the first few notes of a tune). We have here a fine selection of local and Scots tunes and his lack of “dots” doesn't seem to have done him much harm. There's no flashy playing here, just good steady dance music with a very local flavour. Jimmy's first instrument was the Northumbrian pipes, picked up after he heard his granddad Bill Drummond play them at family parties, but as often happens, arthritis forced a move to a more finger friendly instrument some time ago. With a background such as Jimmy's, his relaxed style of playing has transferred very easily to the moothie, although he's quite happy to burst into song a couple of times- good man!

It was said by older musicians that Northumbrian tunes should emerge “like peas oot of a pod”, i.e. one at a time, and that is just what happens here, with eleven sets of all the rhythms common to the region's music, including the distinctive rant, perhaps best described to foreign ears as a heavily accented slow reel, with a dance to match. On that subject, Jimmy happily admits to dancing the Morpeth Rant in the 1950s at the traditional Alnwick Gathering dressed like others in full drapes and winkle pickers! The notes are well produced and clear, but no more than you need, as the music can speak for itself, and does. There is great variety here, always an asset in a real musician, but among some lovely sets I'd pick out Tomorrow Morning/Minstrel's Fancy/Sheffield Hornpipe, and the marches Lochanside/Loch Ruan/Retford Cottage as being fine examples of one of the healthiest regional styles in England.

Jimmy is happy to play a concluding set of waltzes, a rhythm much neglected by current “folk” musicians, but not by real country musicians like him, the lovely Bonny North Tyne being the first tune of this last set, followed by Makendon and Bonny Border Burn. There's backing from some of Northumberland's rich store of musicians, and even if that is at times a little superfluous to some excellent moothie playing, this recording is still a valuable addition to the Northumbrian repertoire- don't know if he can make a hooky mat, but he's made a grand CD here. 

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 89 of The Living Tradition magazine.